Getting Kids Into Libraries With Hip-Hop and MacArthur Money

Meet Brother Mike, a spoken word and hip-hop collaborator who is helping Chicago teens find relevance in the public library system. Brother Mike (who's full name is Mike Hawkins) is the lead mentor and coordinator at YOUMedia, an innovative teen learning space currently located at five Chicago Public Library locations.

At these locations, middle and high school students can use digital media tools, cameras, drawing tables, editing software, and a recording studio to get inspired, create, and innovate. The MacArthur Foundation saw value in this local program and announced a $2 million three-year grant to the Chicago Public Library's YOUMedia program.

At this time, YOUMedia resources exist at Chicago's Harold Washington Library Center, Humboldt Park branch, Richard M. Daley branch, Rudy Lozano branch, and Thurgood Marshall branch. With MacArthur's $2 million grant, the library system hopes to expand it's YOUMedia programming to 77 Chicago Public Library branches. (Read MacArthur Foundation: Chicago Grants).

YOUMedia programs are designed to promote critical thinking, creativity, and skill-building. Not is MacArthur's funding intended to expanding programming to additional library branches, but also to include explicit connections to career and academic opportunities in the existing branches.

At YOUMedia, Brother Mike is joined by nearly a dozen other mentors who specialize in research, cyber navigation, photography, graphic design, and video. These volunteers lead hands-on workshops on topics like producing digital music, building robots, and using a 3D printer. The best part: Becoming a YOUMedia member is free with a valid Chicago Public Library card.

This isn't the first time that YOUMedia has caught MacArthur's attention. MacArthur has supported the creative teen project since its inception, awarding a $70,000 grant in 2009, a $1,050,000 three-year grant in 2010, a $500,000 grant in to expand to three libraries 2010, a $450,000 grant in 2011, and a $400,000 continuing support grant earlier in 2013.

“Students have the power to participate in the media, to react to the media, to create the media, to be the media,” Brother Mike said. “With this newfound power, our youth don’t have to simply be fed what the media presents; they can join in the process, to provide a broader more and relevant perspective, while at the same time defining themselves in new, and powerful ways. This idea of redefinition can influence the birth of a new youth cultural renaissance.”